Early last month Mewhort reported that the team had "lost 457 pounds of total fat, and gained 500-odd pounds of muscle."
That would make the Buckeyes college football's equivalent of the biggest losers, which is fitting: The team's 6--7 record last season was its worst since it went 4--6--1 in 1988.
People try to be nice," says Luke Fickell, the ex-Buckeyes noseguard who took over as interim coach for Tressel. "They say, 'You did a great job.' Well, no. We were 6--7. You don't have to bulls--- me. That's not a great job. I'm not happy about it.
"People are looking for positives, they say, 'You did it with class.' I'd rather have done it with [less class] and won a little more."
During one of his first conversations with Meyer, Buckeyes athletic director Gene Smith mentioned Fickell and spoke of the fine job he'd done under trying circumstances.
Meyer didn't give a fig about any of that. "I want the best guy running my defense," he says. Yes, he would interview Fickell for the defensive coordinator's job, but Smith's endorsement would have no bearing on the decision. Meyer frequently mentions the importance of "alignment" on his staff. Fickell was close to Vrabel; both are immensely popular ex-players. Meyer couldn't help but consider the possibility, however remote, that they might someday undermine him. "There were red flags all over the place," he says.
Fickell was, if anything, more skeptical about his chances of working smoothly with the new guy. At their Nov. 27 meeting, the day after the Buckeyes' season-ending 40--34 loss at Michigan, Fickell didn't exactly plead for his position.
"You'll be just fine with or without me," he told Meyer. "If I'm right for you and what you've got planned for the program, then it's right for me. If it's not right for you, it's not going to be right for me, either. You sure as hell don't need me."
Meyer liked him immediately. Fickell was one of his first hires and will run a defense that brings back nine starters, including the entire defensive line.
The defense will need to be stout, because the Buckeyes are the opposite of loaded on offense. While Meyer likes the "skill level" of dual-threat quarterback Braxton Miller, who flashed promise last year as a true freshman, "my biggest concern is the guys around him." Ohio State's leading receiver last year had 14 catches, and the Buckeyes finished the year ranked 115th in passing offense. While some incoming freshmen may spice things up, there are no difference-makers at the skill positions.